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Novel set in Kosovo – the author introduces this little known country

15th August 2017

Photo: Francis Tapon

How to be a Kosovan Bride by Naomi Hamill, novel set in Kosovo.

First off it might be helpful to know that the country of Kosovo, tucked in the Balkans, is a country that is the subject of a territorial dispute between the Republic of Kosovo and the Republic of Serbia. Kosovo declared independence in February 2008 from Serbia. Albanian and Serbian are the official languages, but there are also several regional languages. It has gained diplomatic recognition as a sovereign state by 111 UN member states but Serbia still refuses to recognise Kosovo as a state, accepting however the legitimacy of its institutions.

Novel set in Kosovo


How to be a Kosovan Bride is constructed in short chapters, often no more than a couple of pages. All human life passed across these pages, both pain and pleasure, love and hate. Central are two women, the “Kosovan Wife” and the “Returned Girl” whose stories are firmly set against a backdrop of traditional culture, fables and the legacy of war. No-one has a name, so the reader has to focus more on the story than the character’s individuality – one young woman is a wife in a traditional role, married young, bearing children, living in a home environment and at times struggling with her place in society; the other has been rejected for marriage for now and sets off to study and write in Pristina – she is young, too, and shows a determination to study hard with an iron focus on her goal of going up in the world, on her terms.

This is still a society where the people have been under siege and are only just finding their way into modern ways after war torn years and where society is still burdened oftentimes by archaic traditions.

The stories are beautifully told and deliver wonderful insight into this little-known country. It certainly got me thinking about how little I know about Kosovo, tucked in the heart as it is of South Eastern Europe. A truly thought-provoking read that brings a culture and country to colourful and realistic life. And a charming way to discover just a little more about Kosovo.

Tina for the TripFiction Team

Over to Naomi, who shares more in our #TalkingLocationWith... feature

When I tell people that I’m going to Kosovo for the summer, I’m usually greeted with a confused look or a ‘Wasn’t there a war there?’ or, ‘Is that in Europe?’

Kosovo isn’t well known in the UK: some people might know that there are a few famous pop stars or footballers from Kosovo, but that’s usually about it. And by not knowing, people are really missing out on an exquisite country, an unknown discovery, somewhere more people should visit.

Bustling Pristina, capital city. Photo: Pam Dawes

The main thing you’ll notice about Kosovo, if you ever get there (and I hope that you do) is that it has an air of excitement, of change, of something about to burst out and become something wonderful and amazing. There are so many young people (sadly, so many of them unemployed) and there is so much drive, creativity, longing, excitement, just brimming below the surface, just ready to break out and dance. This is particularly true amongst the young volunteers I’ve worked with who are so driven, so thirsty for experience (something they often struggle to get because of visa restrictions), so dedicated, so generous, so ready to live lives of adventure and daring and joy.


Library interior. Photo: Pam Dawes

I’ve been travelling to Kosovo for over ten years now with the UK charity, Manchester Aid to Kosovo, and I started writing my novel in 2013. I set the novel partly in Pristina, the capital city, and partly in a smaller unspecified town. I really love Pristina as a city – it feels modern and bustling and exciting just to be there. I have two favourite places in the city, both mentioned in the novel. The first is the National Library of Kosovo with its unusual, dramatic, caged exterior and its contrastingly elegant interior. I love the way that the outside looks like boxes of knowledge which are covered with a sort of metallic wrapping – it makes me feel as if knowledge and books and learning are valued so highly, that each section of the library must protect them and must show to the world that this is their intention. Then, inside, to be greeted by the beautiful interior – the brown, white and dove grey floor set out in circles and the round, ornate metalwork that adorns the walls – feels like such a privilege. I feel so lucky to have experienced being inside that building. It feels gentle and bold, all at the same time.

Library exterior. Photo: Pam Dawes

The other place I love in Pristina is the ‘Newborn’ monument, designed by artist Fisnik Ismaili. I find it fascinating that each year it is painted with a new design on the 17th of February, the anniversary of the day that Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008. This year the ‘N’ and the ‘W’ have been laid down on the pavement and ‘No Walls’ has been painted on the ground – what a fantastic global political statement and how exciting that a monument can transform itself each year whilst retaining its core meaning. In my novel, one of the main characters visits the ‘Newborn’ monument and it becomes important in her own rebirth.

The ‘Newborn’ monument in 2013, painted with the flags of countries that had recognised Kosovo as an independent country. Photo: Pam Dawes

The garden in the Manchester Peace Park. Photo: Pam Dawes

Each year I visit the Manchester Peace Park in Podujevё, a park created by Manchester Aid to Kosovo in response to a request by children medically evacuated to Manchester in 1999. The Peace Park holds a very special place in my heart for personal reasons but it is also a beautiful place to visit. Gardeners, Jakup Bahteri and Rexjep Sheholli keep the garden, landscaped by the Eden Project in Cornwall, looking tidy throughout the year and during the summer you can see the flags on the Peace Park, designed by a local schoolgirl and made by a Cornish flagmaker, Lucy Birbeck, flying outrageously in their pink and orange silks.

Flags flying in the Manchester Peace Park. Photo: Pam Dawes

Photo: Matt Hamilton

Batllava lake is the perfect place to relax. You can hire boats and mess around in the water or you can sit in one of the many lakeside restaurants and eat fish, freshly caught. Choose home-made, puffed up bread with spicy peppers in cream or tomatoes that taste of sunlight and salty white crumbly cheese or try a plethora of grilled meats, perfectly cooked. Batllava lake is just beautiful: the water is clean and refreshing, the atmosphere relaxed and holiday-like and the food is simple yet delicious – it’s the perfect place to unwind.

These are just a few of my favourite places in Kosovo but I have barely touched the surface: Pristina itself is overflowing with restaurants, the Ethnological Museum, theatres and more and then there’s the beautiful region of Peja (where the local beer comes from) and there’s Prizren, a city of heritage, mystery and mosques with its soundscape of entrancing calls to prayer. Go to Kosovo and you’ll visit a country with a deep sense of history and where hospitality is a way of life. You’ll be given the warmest welcome and your visit might just change your life forever.

This has been quite an eye-opening post, about such a country that only few, as yet, can claim to know well. You can follow Naomi on Twitter.

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